Friday, June 25, 2010

Lunch at Ramen Dojo

Yesterday, a massive power outage struck in the downtown area of Millbrae around noon. A construction truck backed into an electric post causing high voltage wires to get tangled up, hence knocking out the power for hours. Drats! I had a ton of work to do! But the place was dark, the computers were down, and the alarms were going off. Before stress overcame me, I thought there was only one thing to do. Lunch.

Friends have been telling me about a new ramen place that opened very recently in San Mateo, where the old Santa Ramen used to be. So this opportunity to check it out is like a gift from heaven. If you are a ramen enthusiast like me, you don't head to San Francisco or anywhere else in the Bay Area, except to San Mateo. With ramen outlets like Santa Ramen, Himawari, Izakaya Mai, and others, San Mateo is ground zero for the best ramen around the bay.

Typical of ramen houses, each one has a specialty. I like the Okinawan salt flavor and the wonton ramen of Himawari. Santa Ramen has a cult following because of its fatty stewed pork ramen. Years ago at Kaimuki Grill along El Camino, when Okada-san still owned the place (he also started Ramen Club in Burlingame), I enjoyed the al dente, ramen noodles that he made himself from flour milled in Japan.

This new ramen joint in San Mateo is called Ramen Dojo. To cut to the chase, it's a winner and I can't wait to get back!

The style of ramen here is very different. Obviously, it's spicy, as it says clearly on the front signage this is a spicy noodle house. You can order the optional non-spicy, but why even come to this place then?

I sat at the counter and ordered the garlic and pork flavor--as far as I'm concerned the only option--regular, plain without extras ($8.95). I thought there were plenty enough toppings when the bowl was set in front of me just minutes later.

Immediately I noticed the garnish of fresh red-leaf lettuce, instead of the customary sheet of nori. A healthy touch, I thought, and quite San Francisco. There were also sprigs of spring onions, boiled quail egg (very nice and totally Asian), strands of red pepper, slices of kikurage mushrooms (wood ears), fried whole garlic cloves, and the all important char-siu pork. The char-siu pork here is really special, full of roast pork goodness and without any off smells. Clearly they use high quality pork and barbecue it perfectly. I think this char-siu is what makes this place stand out.

The soup itself is mild in terms of pork taste, which I prefer to the milky, fatty broth; highlighting the char-siu flavor and the intensity of the spice. It is served piping hot. Resting underneath, the noodles are what I noticed last. Again, very distinctive, as they are flat, almost like linguine, and, to my satisfaction, quite al dente. I was told the noodles are ordered from Los Angeles, which has some of the best noodle houses this side of the Pacific.

Good thing I don't have to go to L.A. for a slurp. San Mateo has some notable ramen houses, and Ramen Dojo is definitely one of them.

Ramen Dojo
Japanese Spicy Noodle House
805 South B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401
Mon-Sun lunch and dinner
Closed Tues